Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Yudelson recalls friendship with Kobe Bryant: 'He seemed invincible'

Alex Yudelson with Kobe Bryant in Toronto at the NBA All Star Game in 2015.
Provided by Alex Yudelson
Alex Yudelson with Kobe Bryant in Toronto at the NBA All Star Game in 2015.

"Shocked and numb" is how Alex Yudelson described his response to the news that basketball legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

"I'm still speechless about it, frankly," he said. "It's almost like you don't believe it because he just seemed invincible."

Yudelson, who is now Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren's chief of staff, was working as a policy adviser to then-President Barack Obama when he first met Bryant in late 2014. 

Yudelson said he became an LA Lakers fan because of Bryant, and while working in the White House could make one jaded about meeting celebrities, it was a "dream come true" to stand in the same room with Bryant.

The president had requested a meeting with the basketball star to congratulate him on his announced retirement from the LA Lakers.

But the White House visit wasn't typical.

"Usually, when athletes came by the Oval Office, they would want to see the Situation Room and the Oval Office, and that's about it," Yudelson explained. "With Kobe, he wanted to see how the president's briefing book was made."

Bryant spent about 20 minutes in a staff secretary's office learning about the details of the president's scheduling. He was known for his tenacity on the basketball court, and Yudelson said he brought that same energy to his personal life, "but with this incredible kindness and humbleness."

Yudelson said most other athletes communicated with him through their agents or league offices, but Bryant always sent his own texts and made his own calls.  He said Bryant made time to see him when he was in Toronto for his last NBA All Star game in 2015.

He said he last heard from Bryant about a year ago when he texted him with questions about a story that a Politico reporter was writing about Obama's legacy in the sports community.

Yudelson said he'll always wonder what further impact Bryant could have had on the world.

He called the father of four daughters "probably the best male advocate for women's sports."